How Long Has Semaglutide Been Around?

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, MFOMA

Written by Vanessa Gibbs

Published 05/28/2024

Semaglutide drugs like Ozempic® and Wegovy® seemingly exploded onto the scene in the past couple of years. But the drug has been around longer than that.

How long has semaglutide been around exactly? 

Under the brand name Ozempic, semaglutide was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017 to help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar. In 2021, it was FDA-approved under the brand name Wegovy to help those with overweight and obesity lose weight. 

How long has Ozempic been studied? How long has Ozempic been on the market?  You’ve got more questions, we’ve got more answers.

Read on to learn more about semaglutide and Ozempic history, including how it went from a drug for type 2 diabetes to a popular weight loss treatment.

People have been using semaglutide since 2017 when it was FDA-approved as a diabetes drug. It was later used as a weight loss drug and eventually FDA-approved for weight loss in 2021.

Here’s a quick rundown of when semaglutide drugs first hit the market: 

  • Ozempic. Ozempic was FDA-approved in December 2017 as a diabetes drug. It’s prescribed off-label for weight loss. This is when a doctor prescribes a drug for something it hasn’t been approved for.  

  • Rybelsus. Rybelsus — the tablet form of semaglutide — was FDA-approved in September 2019 as a diabetes drug. Rybelus also isn’t approved for weight loss, but it’s often prescribed off-label. 

  • Wegovy. Wegovy was FDA-approved in June 2021. It’s the only semaglutide drug that’s approved for weight loss. In March 2024, Wegovy was also approved to reduce the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events in those with cardiovascular disease and either overweight or obesity. 

Millions of people now use semaglutide and similar drugs. According to a 2023 report from Trilliant Health, prescriptions for glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist (GLP-1) medications — a class of drug that includes semaglutide — increased by 300 percent from the start of 2020 to the end of 2022. 

Healthcare providers wrote a whopping 9 million prescriptions for GLP-1 drugs in the final three months of 2022 — that includes semaglutide drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy. Ozempic is the most prescribed drug of its kind.

Believe it or not, semaglutide was inspired by lizard venom. 

A scientist and endocrinologist at the University of Toronto named Daniel Drucker learned that the venom of the Gila monster — yes, that’s its real name — contained hormones that could regulate blood glucose levels.   

Drucker began experimenting on the venom in 1995. By 2005, a synthetic version of a hormone in the venom — a GLP-1 receptor agonist — was used to treat type 2 diabetes. 

Next, the drugs exenatide (Byetta®) and liraglutide (Victoza® and Saxenda®) were developed. Byetta was FDA-approved in 2005, Victoza was approved in 2010, and Saxenda was approved in 2014

These drugs help with blood sugar regulation and weight loss, but they require daily injections. As daily injections are no fun for anyone, researchers began to develop a similar drug that only needed a weekly injection. 

Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk — who are also the makers of liraglutide — developed semaglutide as a long-acting type 2 diabetes drug. 

Semaglutide was first tested on mice, and when it was found to be effective, it progressed to clinical trials. 

Weight loss was never the aim, but it emerged as a common side effect of semaglutide.  

Here’s how it went down:

  • Findings from the first clinical trials on semaglutide injections were published in 2017. These trials were on people with type 2 diabetes. 

  • Findings from clinical trials on oral semaglutide for type 2 diabetes were published in 2021.

  • Findings from clinical trials on semaglutide injections for weight loss were published in 2021. 

When did semaglutide come out? After successful clinical trials, it eventually got FDA approval in December 2017 to go out into the world under the brand name Ozempic. 

And voila — the drug we know today was born. 

From here, similar diabetes and weight loss drugs have been developed, including tirzepatide, sold under the brand names Mounjaro® and Zepbound®. 

Semaglutide is sold under the brand names Ozempic, Wegovy, and Rybelsus. They all work in a similar way, but they’re taken in different forms and are approved for different people.

Here’s what you need to know.

Ozempic 

Ah, Ozempic. This is the brand name that probably comes to mind when you think about semaglutide. 

Ozempic is a weekly subcutaneous (under the skin) injection that’s approved to help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. It’s also approved to reduce the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events in people with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

While it has never been approved for weight loss, it’s often prescribed off-label for this use.

Ozempic works by suppressing your appetite and curbing cravings. This naturally reduces your food intake, helping you lose body weight.

The most common side effects are gastrointestinal issues, including stomach pain, constipation, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Rybelsus

Rybelsus is an oral version of semaglutide that’s taken as a tablet once a day. It’s approved to help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar. 

Like Ozempic, Rybelus isn’t approved for weight loss, but it’s often prescribed off-label as a weight loss treatment. 

Side effects are similar to those found with Ozempic. 

Wegovy

Wegovy is a once-a-week semaglutide injection that’s available at a higher dose than Ozempic. 

It’s approved for chronic weight management in adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. It’s also available to people with a BMI of 27 or higher and at least one weight-related health condition, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or type 2 diabetes. 

Wegovy is prescribed alongside a balanced diet and regular exercise. 

As of March 2024, Wegovy is also approved to reduce the risk of major adverse events in those with cardiovascular disease and either overweight or obesity. 

Side effects are similar to Ozempic.

Want to learn more? Check out our guide to Wegovy vs. Ozempic for weight loss. 

Compounded Semaglutide

Compounded drugs include the same active ingredient (or combination of ingredients) as other drugs. Although compounded medications are not FDA-approved, they can provide solutions for people with personalized medication needs.   

Semaglutide drugs have grown in popularity, resulting in shortages of Ozempic and Wegovy. To help meet demand, some licensed compounding pharmacies have begun producing compounded semaglutide.  

If you’re considering compounded semaglutide, it’s important to work with a licensed healthcare provider and a reputable pharmacy. 

Subscribers to the Hers weight loss plan have access to licensed providers who can prescribe compounded semaglutide. You can get medication shipped to your door, and you’ll have ongoing access to providers for support during your weight loss journey.   

Semaglutide can help those with type 2 diabetes or those with overweight or obesity. 

For weight loss, semaglutide is usually prescribed to people with a BMI of 30 or more, or 27 or more with at least one weight-related health condition like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or type 2 diabetes.

Speak to a healthcare provider to find out if semaglutide is right for you. 

Semaglutide drugs come with a black box warning stating that they can cause thyroid C-cell tumors in rodents. But it’s unclear if the risk is there in humans.

For now, people with a personal or family history of medullary thyroid cancer or people with multiple endocrine syndrome 2 shouldn’t take semaglutide. 

You also shouldn’t take semaglutide if you have a serious hypersensitivity reaction to the drug.

Semaglutide has been linked to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). Let your prescribing healthcare provider know if you’ve got a history of pancreatitis, as well as any other health condition. 

Today, semaglutide is a popular weight loss drug, but it’s been around longer than most of us think. 

Here’s a recap of the key questions you might have: 

  • How long has Ozempic been around? Ozempic was FDA-approved in 2017 as a diabetes medication. It’s prescribed off-label for weight loss. 

  • How long has Wegovy been around? Wegovy was FDA-approved in 2021 as a weight loss drug. 

  • How long has semaglutide been used for weight loss? Semaglutide is often used for weight loss in the form of Ozempic, but it was approved for weight loss in 2021 under the brand name Wegovy.

FYI, semaglutide isn’t your only option if you’re looking to lose weight. 

Lifestyle changes — like eating nutritious foods, doing more movement, getting enough sleep, and drinking more water — can help. These habits can boost your weight loss efforts whether you’re taking semaglutide or not. 

Other weight loss medications like metformin can also be helpful for some. 

If it’s something you’re considering, take our free online assessment to find the best weight loss treatments for you.

20 Sources

  1. Aroda, VR, et al. (2019). PIONEER 1: Randomized clinical trial of the efficacy and safety of oral semaglutide monotherapy in comparison with placebo in patients with type 2 diabetes.
  2. Holst, JJ, et al. (2017). Semaglutide seems to be more effective the other GLP-1Ras.
  3. Knudsen, LB, et al. (2019). The discovery and development of liraglutide and semaglutide.
  4. Lilly. (2005). Amylin and Lilly announce FDA approval of Byetta (exenatide) injection.
  5. Ozempic semaglutide injection. (2023). https://www.novo-pi.com/ozempic.pdf
  6. Rybelsus semaglutide tablets. (2024). https://www.novo-pi.com/rybelsus.pdf
  7. Saxenda (liraglutide) injection. (2014). https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2014/206321orig1s000lbl.pdf
  8. Sorli, C, et al. (2017). Efficacy and safety of once-weekly semaglutide monotherapy versus placebo in patients with type 2 diabetes (SUSTAIN 1): a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled, parallel-group, multinational, multicentre phase 3a trial.
  9. Trilliant Health. (2023). 2023 trends shaping the health economy.
  10. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2022). Compounding and the FDA: Questions and Answers.
  11. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020). Drug trial snapshot: Ozempic.
  12. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019). FDA approves first oral GLP-1 treatment for type 2 diabetes.
  13. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2024). FDA approves first treatment to reduce risk of serious heart problems specifically in adults with obesity or overweight.
  14. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2021). FDA approves new drug treatment for chronic weight management, first since 2014.
  15. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). FDA drug shortages.
  16. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2024). Medications containing semaglutide marketed for type 2 diabetes or weight loss.
  17. Vox. (2021). How a lizard’s venom inspired the promising weight loss drug Wegovy.
  18. Victoza (liraglutide) injection. (2017). https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2017/022341s027lbl.pdf
  19. Wegovy semaglutide injection. (2023). https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2023/215256s007lbl.pdf
  20. Wilding, JPH, et al. (2021). Once-weekly semaglutide in adults with overweight or obesity.
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Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, MFOMA

Dr. Craig Primack MD, FACP, FAAP, MFOMA is a physician specializing in obesity medicine.

He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois and subsequently attended medical school at Loyola University — The Stritch School of Medicine. 

He completed a combined residency in Internal Medicine and in Pediatrics at Banner University- Phoenix, and Phoenix Children's Hospital. He received post-residency training in Obesity Medicine and is one of about 7,000 physicians in the U.S. certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine.

In 2006, Dr. Primack co-founded Scottdale Weight Loss Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he began practicing full-time obesity medicine. Scottsdale Weight Loss Center has grown since then to six obesity medicine clinicians in four locations around the greater Phoenix Metropolitan area.

From 2019–2021, he served as president of the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA), a society of over 5,400 clinicians dedicated to clinical obesity medicine. He proudly served on the OMA board from 2010-2024, most recently as ex-officio trustee.

Dr. Primack routinely does media interviews regarding weight loss and regularly speaks around the country educating medical professionals about weight loss and obesity care. He is co-author of the book, “Chasing Diets.”

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